Whether it’s the NFL or ESPN, sports organizations are constantly seeking opinions from fans. One Baltimore company wants to improve that interaction.
Alex Bullington and Greg DiNardo, avid followers of soccer and the NBA, wanted a way to be a part of the decisions and choices made by the athletes they idolize, whether it’s helping LeBron James to pick a movie to watch or Lionel Messi to choose shoes to wear for his next game.
Upon quitting their jobs with a financial services firm in downtown Baltimore last year, Bullington and DiNardo started working on Arbit, an app they describe as the “Snapchat for photo polling.” It lets athletes engage with fans by using binary polls in which users can make a decision using accompanying photos with the two options, a feature that does not exist with Twitter and Facebook polling.
The app currently has two NBA veterans, Steve Blake, a University of Maryland alumnus, and Anthony Tolliver, as investors. It’s also used by Ben McLemore of the Sacramento Kings and Alex Len of the Phoenix Suns, who is also a University of Maryland alumnus.
For the past year, Bullington has been pitching Arbit to angel investors and venture capital firms, finally getting a stroke of luck earlier this year that led Blake to become the app’s first athlete investor.
While the app’s concept was born out of the founders’ interest in sports and desire to find a way to connect with athletes, Bullington and DiNardo would like to see the app used in other arenas to garner consumer feedback and demographic data. Eventually, they hope, it could be used by companies such as Baltimore-based sports giant Under Armour or by advertising firms.
In the past year, Arbit has faced two primary challenges: getting access to funding while also getting athletes on board, Bullington said. To overcome those challenges, the app has to stand out from a sea of apps already on the market.
To get users on board, the app was first distributed among friends and family. Tolliver also did a soft promotion to his fans after getting on board in September. Recently, Bullington reached out to personalities on Instagram — those users with a substantial online following — and encouraged them to download the app. That tactic was well received, said Bullington.
Arbit currently has 1,000 followers. The company is gearing up for a large promotional push in the new year, he said.
Arbit also applied for the 2017 Accelerate Baltimore program, which offers seed stage funding to its winners plus an additional $100,000 to one company at the end of the program. The program is run by the Emerging Technology Centers (ETC), a Baltimore-based technology and innovation center. Along with seed funding, Accelerate Baltimore winners get free office space, access to such resources such as an advisory team and mentors, as well as connections to potential investors and partners. The program will announce its 2017 winners in January.
Arbit currently has five employees — co-founders Bullington, who is Baltimore-based, and DiNardo, who is in Austin, Texas, and three developers based in Uruguay.
However, as the company grows, Bullington said, it’s looking to grow using Baltimore talent.
“We want to make this work in Baltimore,” he said.